The chevalier was still holding Angelique's hand when a step resounded outside, and a voice was heard.
"Can it be that he has come back?" exclaimed the damsel, hastily freeing herself from the passionate embrace of the chevalier. "It's not possible! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! it's his voice!"
She grew pale to the lips, and stood staring at the door with outstretched arms, unable to advance or recede.
The chevalier listened, but felt sure the approaching voice belonged neither to the commander nor to the treasurer.
"'His voice'?" thought Quennebert to himself. "Can this be yet another aspirant to her favour?"
The sound came nearer.
"Hide yourself!" said Angelique, pointing to a door opposite to the partition behind which the widow and the notary were ensconced. "Hide yourself there!--there's a secret staircase--you can get out that way."
"I hide myself!" exclaimed Moranges, with a swaggering air. "What are you thinking of? I remain."
It would have been better for him to have followed her advice, as may very well have occurred to the youth two minutes later, as a tall, muscular young man entered in a state of intense excitement. Angelique rushed to meet him, crying--
"Ah! Monsieur le duc, is it you?"
"What is this I hear, Angelique?" said the Duc de Vitry. "I was told below that three men had visited you this evening; but only two have gone out--where is the third? Ha! I do not need long to find him," he added, as he caught sight of the chevalier, who stood his ground bravely enough.
"In Heaven's name!" cried Angelique,--"in Heaven's name, listen to me!"
"No, no, not a word. Just now I am not questioning you. Who are you, sir?"
The chevalier's teasing and bantering disposition made him even at that critical moment insensible to fear, so he retorted insolently--
"Whoever I please to be, sir; and on my word I find the tone in which you put your question delightfully amusing."
The duke sprang forward in a rage, laying his hand on his sword. Angelique tried in vain to restrain him.
"You want to screen him from my vengeance, you false one!" said he, retreating a few steps, so as to guard the door. "Defend your life, sir!"
"Do you defend yours!"
Both drew at the same moment.
Two shrieks followed, one in the room, the other behind the tapestry, for neither Angelique nor the widow had been able to restrain her alarm as the two swords flashed in air. In fact the latter had been so frightened that she fell heavily to the floor in a faint.
This incident probably saved the young man's life; his blood had already begun to run cold at the sight of his adversary foaming with rage and standing between him and the door, when the noise of the fall distracted the duke's attention.
"What was that?" he cried. "Are there other enemies concealed here too?" And forgetting that he was leaving a way of escape free, he rushed in the direction from which the sound came, and lunged at the tapestry-covered partition with his sword. Meantime the chevalier, dropping all his airs of bravado, sprang from one end of the room to the other like a cat pursued by a dog; but rapid as were his movements, the duke perceived his flight, and dashed after him at the risk of breaking both his own neck and the chevalier's by a chase through unfamiliar rooms and down stairs which were plunged in darkness.
All this took place in a few seconds, like a flash of lightning. Twice, with hardly any interval, the street door opened and shut noisily, and the two enemies were in the street, one pursued and the other pursuing.
"My God! Just to think of all that has happened is enough to make one die of fright!" said Mademoiselle de Guerchi. "What will come next, I should like to know? And what shall I say to the duke when he comes back?"
Just at this instant a loud cracking sound was heard in the room. Angelique stood still, once more struck with terror, and recollecting the cry she had heard. Her hair, which was already loosened, escaped entirely from its bonds, and she felt it rise on her head as the figures on the tapestry moved and bent towards her. Falling on her knees and closing her eyes, she began to invoke the aid of God and all the saints. But she soon felt herself raised by strong arms, and looking round, she found herself in the presence of an unknown man, who seemed to have issued from the ground or the walls, and who, seizing the only light left unextinguished in the scuffle, dragged her more dead than alive into the next room.
This man was, as the reader will have already guessed, Maitre Quennebert. As soon as the chevalier and the duke had disappeared, the notary had run towards the corner where the widow lay, and having made sure that she was really unconscious, and unable to see or hear anything, so that it would be quite safe to tell her any story he pleased next day, he returned to his former position, and applying his shoulder to the partition, easily succeeded in freeing the ends of the rotten laths from the nails which held there, and, pushing them before him, made an aperture large enough to allow of his passing through into the next apartment. He applied himself to this task with such vigour, and became so absorbed in its accomplishment, that he entirely forgot the bag of twelve hundred livres which the widow had given him.
"Who are you? What do you want with me?" cried Mademoiselle de Guerchi, struggling to free herself.
"Silence!" was Quennebert's answer.
"Don't kill me, for pity's sake!"
"Who wants to kill you? But be silent; I don't want your shrieks to call people here. I must be alone with you for a few moments. Once more I tell you to be quiet, unless you want me to use violence. If you do what I tell you, no harm shall happen to you."
"But who are you, monsieur?"
"I am neither a burglar nor a murderer; that's all you need to know; the rest is no concern of yours. Have you writing materials at hand?"
"Yes, monsieur; there they are, on that table."
"Very well. Now sit down at the table."
"Sit down, and answer my questions."
"The first man who visited you this evening was M. Jeannin, was he not?"
"Yes, M. Jeannin de Castille."
"The king's treasurer?"
"All right. The second was Commander de Jars, and the young man he brought with him was his nephew, the Chevalier de Moranges. The last comer was a duke; am I not right?"
"The Duc de Vitry."
"Now write from my dictation."
He spoke very slowly, and Mademoiselle de Guerchi, obeying his commands, took up her pen.
"'To-day,'" dictated Quennebert,--"'to-day, this twentieth day of the month of November, in the year of the Lord 1658, I--
"What is your full name?"
"Angelique-Louise de Guerchi."
"Go on! 'I, Angelique-Louise de Guerchi, was visited, in the rooms which--I occupy, in the mansion of the Duchesse d'Etampes, corner of the streets Git-le-Coeur and du Hurepoix, about half-past seven o'clock in the evening, in the first place, by Messire Jeannin de Castille, King's Treasurer; in the second place, by Commander de Jars, who was accompanied by a young man, his nephew, the Chevalier de Moranges; in the third place, after the departure of Commander de Jars, and while I was alone with the Chevalier de Moranges, by the Duc de Vitry, who drew his sword upon the said chevalier and forced him to take flight.'
"Now put in a line by itself, and use capitals "'DESCRIPTION OF THE CHEVALIER DE MORANGES."
"But I only saw him for an instant," said Angelique, "and I can't recall----
"Write, and don't talk. I can recall everything, and that is all that is wanted."
"'Height about five feet.' The chevalier," said Quennebert, interrupting himself, "is four feet eleven inches three lines and a half, but I don't need absolute exactness." Angelique gazed at him in utter stupefaction.
"Do you know him, then?" she asked.
"I saw him this evening for the first time, but my eye is very accurate.
"'Height about five feet; hair black, eyes ditto, nose aquiline, mouth large, lips compressed, forehead high, face oval, complexion pale, no beard.'
"Now another line, and in capitals: "'SPECIAL MARKS.'
"'A small mole on the neck behind the right ear, a smaller mole on the left hand.'
"Have you written that? Now sign it with your full name."
"What use are you going to make of this paper?"
"I should have told you before, if I had desired you to know. Any questions are quite useless. I don't enjoin secrecy on you, however," added the notary, as he folded the paper and put it into his doublet pocket. "You are quite free to tell anyone you like that you have written the description of the Chevalier de Moranges at the dictation of an unknown man, who got into your room you don't know how, by the chimney or through the ceiling perhaps, but who was determined to leave it by a more convenient road. Is there not a secret staircase? Show me where it is. I don't want to meet anyone on my way out."
Angelique pointed out a door to him hidden by a damask curtain, and Quennebert saluting her, opened it and disappeared, leaving Angelique convinced that she had seen the devil in person. Not until the next day did the sight of the displaced partition explain the apparition, but even then so great was her fright, so deep was the terror which the recollection of the mysterious man inspired, that despite the permission to tell what had happened she mentioned her adventure to no one, and did not even complain to her neighbour, Madame Rapally, of the inquisitiveness which had led the widow to spy on her actions.
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